More than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel auntil 7 October 2023, often supporting their extended families, including parents, unmarried siblings, and grandchildren. A significant number of them are educated and skilled workers who work in Israel because of the wage disparities between Israel and the West Bank. In times of crisis, such as during the current war, their inability to earn, and the uncertainty about their future livelihoods, weighs heavily on them and their families beyond mere financial stability. This forced idleness significantly affects their overall sense of dignity and self-worth, as they grapple with the uncertainty of being able to provide for their families and fulfill their roles as providers. Uncertainty also leads to heightened stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy, impacting their mental health and well-being.
Sadly, their ordeal extends beyond periods of unemployment and persists also when they are employed. Theirs is an ongoing situation marked by systemic injustices that Kav LaOved has repeatedly addressed, seeking answers from Israel’s government:
Practices of exploitation and rights’ violations: Despite Israel’s progressive labor laws, extended to all workers, Palestinians are disproportionately affected by a lack of enforcement regarding their rights. In recent reports we have detailed the challenges encountered by Palestinian workers in Israel: leaving daily their houses at down, spending hours in crowded check points, relying on permit intermediaries, paying illegal brokerage fees in outrageous amounts for the “privilege” of working in Israel, being paid in black which denies them their social rights, incapability of enjoying sick pay, vacation and holidays, unlawful dismissals, and collective punishment as a matter of routine by closing the crossings during wartime – with no compensation.
What are the government’s plans in addressing the stark disparity between Israel’s progressive labor laws and the practice daily faced by Palestinian workers?
Palestinians constitute about one-third of the Israeli construction industry workforce, with 48 fatalities and 299 moderate to severe injuries reported in 2023, despite site closures during the war. We discern a direct connection between the victims’ ethnic identity and the meagre enforcement efforts by the State, as most construction workers in Israel, besides West Bank Palestinians, are Arab Israelis and migrant workers – also vulnerable workers groups.
Who is responsible for the systemic lack of enforcement and supervision that have resulted in disproportionately high rates of work-related accidents among Palestinian workers in construction?
We have learnt recently that dozens of Palestinian workers who held permits to work in Israel, began applying to cancel them. Desperate for income, prohibited to enter Israel during the war, unable to find work in the West Bank, or to rely on any savings, these workers chose to cancel their permits to be eligible to withdraw their pension funds. They were forced to waive the already thin safety net for their retirement, in exchange for immediate relief.
Many Palestinian workers have expressed their desire to apply to work in settlements, as the only job alternative they have at the moment. Therefore, by closing the gates to Palestinian workers, Israel has driven many of them to work in settlements in service of the occupation, also increasing their vulnerability. These workplaces are notorious for their disregard for Israeli labour and occupational health and safety laws, which in many cases are not enforced at all in the Occupied Territories. .
What are Israel’s plans to ensure the protection of labor rights to all workers, especially considering the level of disparity within various labor sectors and the prevalence of discriminatory practices? Furthermore, given the limited success of the government in safeguarding workers’ rights in Israel, what steps are being taken to address these challenges and uphold fair employment practices for all newly arriving workers?
Are there other instances globally where workers with valid work permits are arbitrarily detained by military forces, similar to the situation experienced by Palestinian workers during times of conflict in Israel?.
Kav LaOved’s analysis of the reality Palestinian workers face at the outset of 2024 reveals that the prevailing discourse fails to address the most critical and pressing issues. Palestinian workers are human beings, many are skilled professionals and essential workers, unable to find adequate employment within the Palestinian Authority, where monthly income is significantly lower and job opportunities are scarce.
Due to the ongoing situation, Palestinian workers in the West Bank have been unable to access their workplaces for over a month, leaving them without salaries. In response, workers’ rights groups are advocating for a one-time payment from the workers’ pension fund, Amitim, to provide some financial relief.
100,000 workers are prevented from reaching their workplace in Israel. “We are on the verge of the collapse of the Palestinian economy”
Due to the closure imposed on the Occupied Territories since the outbreak of the war, some 100,000 Palestinian workers cannot work in Israel and are left without any income or social safety net. The implications for the Palestinian economy could be very difficult – and the damage will not stop within the Green Line.
Some 100,000 Palestinian workers have been unable to enter Israel since the outbreak of the war due to the closure imposed on the Occupied Territories. They were left with no income in October and no social safety net. The situation is even more serious in light of the fact that some of them did not yet receive their September salary, since the date of its transfer was after the outbreak of the war.
Meanwhile, the war continues and it there is no telling if or when they will be allowed to enter Israel and return to their jobs. The implications for these workers, their families and for the entire Palestinian economy, could be very difficult – and it is far from certain that this damage will stop within the Green Line.
A number of labor rights organizations have appealed to the head of the Foreign Workers Administration at the Population and Immigration Authority in an attempt to slightly improve the economic situation of the Palestinian workers. The organizations – Kav LaOved, the MAAN Workers Association and the Human Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University – are calling on the Authority to allow them to withdraw a certain lump sum from their pension fund, for purpose of basic survival.
In the absence of any compensation mechanism, unemployment benefits or severance pay for these workers, the organizations are asking the Authority to amend the procedure that prohibits the partial withdrawal of funds which are set aside monthly by Israeli employers to the”Amitim Fund” – a fund that accumulates their pension funds – in order to provide an immediate if partial response to their distress.
150 thousand households in the West Bank cannot earn a living
The fact that so many Palestinians cannot make a living in Israel could have devastating consequences for the PA economy, and indirectly also aggravate the security situation.
The Workers Hotline (Kav Laoved) estimates that 150,000 families in the West Bank cannot make a living because of these restrictions, due to the fact that some workers do not only support their own nuclear family. This means that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are affected by their inability to work in Israel. Thousands of Palestinian laborers were exceptionally allowed to enter Israel after the outbreak of the war due to the acute shortage of working hands, but the vast majority still cannot enter.
“Most of the Palestinians who work in Israel are considered middle class by the PA, and the fact that they don’t bring in money is a severe blow to the local economy” says Kav Laoved. According to them, the minimum wage in Israel – NIS 5,572 per month – is three times higher than that in the Palestinian Authority. Most of the Palestinians who work in Israel work in construction, and according to Kav Laoved, a professional worker can even reach a salary of NIS 10,000 a month. A third of all workers come from the Hebron area and the rest from Ramallah, Jenin, Qalqilya, Tulkarm and other cities.
Beyond the fact that they did not earn a single shekel in October from working in Israel, tens of thousands of Palestinian workers are required to pay NIS 2,500 a month in cash just to get their permit. This payment on the black market is actually contrary to the law, as work permits should not cost workers anything at all. The income from this money is divided between a Palestinian intermediary and the Israeli contractor (Jewish or Arab). Some workers paid in advance for their October permit to these brokers – although in actual fact, they did not work at all during that month.
“People in utter despair”
In addition to the Palestinians who come to work within the Green Line areas, Kav Laoved says that there are about 50,000 other Palestinians who work in the industrial zones in the settlements on the other side of the line. They estimate that about two-thirds of these have not yet returned to work – which only exacerbates the developing crisis in the Palestinian economy. This is in addition to the fact that Israeli Arabs do not currently come to the Occupied Territories as usual, to consume various products and services, so the damage is even greater. Moreover, they explain, civil servants in the Palestinian Authority also did not yet receive their October salary due to the disruptions of the war, so the damage exceeds that suffered by the Palestinians who cannot reach their workplace in Israel.
“We are on the verge of the total collapse of the economy in the Palestinian Authority,” warn sources familiar with this matter in Kav Laoved. “People are in utter despair. We are already in the middle of November, and with each passing day the pressure increases.”
Assaf Adiv, Executive Director of MAAN Workers Association, says that these workers are the basis of the Palestinian economy. “This is a huge group. We are not talking about only 300 workers. As soon as they are affected, the local grocery store and the furniture manufacturer will also suffer from a decrease in consumption and damage to revenues – and this in turn will bring down the economy”
The black market is booming
The shockwaves of the crisis in the Palestinian labor market are also being felt here in Israel. Contractors in Israel suffering from a shortage of Palestinian workers, are forced to pay inflated wages on the black market – which is flourishing under such conditions.
In order to prevent a severance of the labor relations between the construction industry in Israel and the Palestinian workers and to help address the plight of these workers, the Contractors’ Association proposes” to make use of the 930 million shekels that have been collected in the treasury since 2005 from both the employers and the Palestinian laborers”. The Association claims “We proposed this idea to the Ministry of Defense. These are funds collected as part of the ‘comparison tax’ which was intended to equalize the benefits granted to Israeli workers by the National Insurance Institute with those of the Palestinian workers, including unemployment benefits.
The Population and Immigration Authority commented in response:
“As a general rule, Palestinian workers who are legally employed or have been employed in Israel may submit requests for early withdrawal of the pension funds and compensation accrued to their credit in the pension fund managed by the Population and Immigration Authority and operated through “Amitim” (the Baraka program handles such requests). Each request is examined on its specific merits in accordance with the criteria established in the procedures published on the Authority’s website in Hebrew and Arabic”.
The Authority emphasizes that” early withdrawal of the funds, before reaching retirement age, has consequences for eligibility to receive an allowance in the future, and therefore a Palestinian employee who chooses to make an early withdrawal is required to confirm that he is aware of these consequences.”